The Art of Denying Jesus

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Peter weeps

“Suddenly, Jesus’ words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.” And he went away, weeping bitterly.”

Matthew 26:75, NLT

Three denials are followed by three reaffirmations.

A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.”

John 21:17

The apostle Peter was a fervent disciple. He knew who Jesus was before most. He was always included in special times (e.g. the transfiguration, Gethsemane). He was favored by Jesus throughout times of ministry. I also believe that he was Jesus’ friend. Peter is known for:

  • being called on the shores of Galilee, Matt 4:18-19
  • ‘almost’ walking on water, Matt 14:29-30
  • finding the tax money in a fishes mouth, Matt 17:24-27
  • having his feet washed, John 13:6-7
  • in Gethsemane– cutting off an ear, John 18:10-11
  • his remorse at denying Jesus, Matt 26:75
  • at the empty tomb with John, John 20:3-8

Peter’s own denials were of a serious nature effecting who he was, and who he was to become. Jesus astutely intervenes as they ‘breakfasted’on the seashore. There would be three affirmations; one for each denial. Peter needed to meet the resurrected Jesus, and speak with him about what he had done. Peter needed this.

Out of our own confusion, we realize that we deny Jesus. Perhaps frequently. A denial has different intensities and different situations. And none of us have an immunity as of yet. We deny the Lord when we refuse to speak of him to others. We deny the Lord when we fail to do what is right. Sometimes we deny him flagrantly, other times it is a more subtle attitude. At best, we’re still inconsistent, and at worst, apostate.

We’re not punished or abandoned for this behavior. Human logic would suggest that we should be. But instead we are gently restored. Given the opportunity, Peter the fisherman, would eventually become a wise shepherd to the young Church. I would also suggest that Peter’s personal weakness would serve him well as a gentle, and caring pastor.

Peter, near the end of his life, goes ‘full circle’ and uses a very precise Greek word found in only two places in the New Testament. It is the specific form of the word “shepherd.” It is only used in John 21:16-17 in Peter’s restoration, and in 1 Peter 5:2. Peter encourages the Church with the same words Jesus himself spoke to him on the beach so long ago! Peter wrote:

Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing.”

1 Peter 5:2, NIV

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I Come, Clinging

 

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I will come and cling

 “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.”

Romans 3:23, NLT

I know myself pretty well.  I fully understand how dark I can be.  I’m nasty and mean, selfish and destructive.  I am the “King of Filth and Deceit.”  (That is my official title, look it up.)  King Midas turned everything he touched into gold.  It seems that everything I touch turns black and putrid. I have come to understand Martin Luther’s own assessment, “Sin boldly, but believe in God more boldly still.” He wasn’t encouraging sin; nor was he giving out ‘a license to sin.’ He was simply acknowledging our nature. He was also speaking of God’s wonderful gift of grace, and the faith needed to obtain it.

But I have heard that there is a place where I can be made white and bright; fully and truly cleansed of an immensity of evil.  He can heal me, and I do not have to continue to produce such wickedness.  I do not have to hurt His dear ones anymore. When I accept Him, His blood releases me. He makes it possible for me to have a new life.

So I come to Him, and cling.  I will not let go, I grab Jesus and hang on.

I won’t slide back into this painful darkness.  I will latch on to Him with everything I have. I cry out for ‘the spiritual velcro’ of Grace. I do this over, and over– until it works. Just give my sin-addled soul Jesus. I’ve had enough religion, now I want Him.

I’m learning that I must learn to forgive myself.  He has already forgiven me.  A weaver works diligently on a rug that he is making.  He uses even the dark thread as he does his work.  In the same way, those deep transgressions must become a part of the Spirit’s work from my life.  He takes it up, without flinching, and weaves it into His work. What He does is miraculous.

God’s specialty is turning rascals into sons and daughters.

I see sadness and confusion, and He sees glory.  I see nothing but evil, and He chooses to turn it into a special grace.  And so, I cling to Him and wait for the Lord to meet me.  He is not overwhelmed by my stains, and He promises a complete deliverance from my great darkness.  So I cling, as a drowning man latches on to a life preserver.

Oh, dear one.  Someone has been looking for you.  Jesus has been searching, trying to save you.  You can go your own way, but I predict nothing but a difficult sorrow, if that is your real choice.  But, there is a way of escape, and it is full of joy and peace.  And it is real.

I know, (first-hand,) that it difficult, but that is just the first stage.  There is a raucous joy that is waiting for you.  You will find such a purpose and completeness that will make your head spin.  He will launch on you into a love and a kindness that you will hardly be able to contain.

“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,
    for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
God blesses those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.”

Matthew 5:3-4

 

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Drowning in Despair

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“For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life.”

   2 Corinthians 1:8

“…we should all fortify ourselves against the dark hours of depression by cultivating a deep distrust of the certainties of despair. Despair is relentless in the certainties of its pessimism. But we have seen again and again, from our own experience and others’, that absolute statements of hopelessness that we make in the dark are notoriously unreliable. Our dark certainties are not sureties.”

John Piper

It is my ‘deliberateness’, and not my impulsiveness that gives me the most concern.   I know ‘despair’.  I know what it is like to be ‘backed into a corner’ and then feel the empty desperation of being lost.  But you must understand, there is a weird seductiveness to ‘being lost’, a ‘strange sort of nobility’, a twisted honor, when it comes to despair.

Piper talks about the ‘dark certainties’ of knowing you are lost.  Now this really seems rather bizarre, that people could do this intentionally, without duress.  But I’m afraid to tell you that it happens all the time.  Despair is chosen over the option of life. This is the ‘lostness’ of the race of Adam.

Pop culture has given us words, albeit in a simplistic form.  I just happen to think right now of an old AC/DC  song, ‘Highway to Hell‘.  The lyrics are pretty basic, very simple, but the lead singer seems to really have a chronically, decided dedication to being one of the irretrievably lost.  He formats a ‘certain glory’ to being part of the damned.  This is a simplistic approach to the next stop– a more advanced case of stark-white despair, suicide. (We can call this ‘spiritual hubris,’ or even, “drugs, sex, and rock-n-roll.”)

In examining the striated world of despair, we must come to the interesting place when our foolishness combined with our arrogance produces a decision to be lost.  Of course, our fear of God must be extracted from the situation.  But for the eager candidate for despair, this is not an insurmountable problem.

Escaping this ‘drowning despair’ we must first dethrone our right to personal sovereignty.  And secondly, we need to grab the concept that God’s grace has an ultimate power that supersedes our notions of a ‘deserved’ love.  (It is completely undeserved).  We must believe that somehow, someway God chooses us out of a pile, a pile of the worst and ugliest.  And somehow, He delights in doing this, and He is Lord.

We are meant to be the people of redemptive hope.  Because of our problems, our addictions, we must clearly renounce our evil folly of despair.  These are the issues that make us vulnerable.  There is a seductiveness to ‘giving up’ and taking up the sin of despair.  There can be a ‘weird romance’ that lures those who ‘walk out lostness’.  We are pulled into a vortex of an exotic melancholy with a dash of fatalism, which makes it reasonable and weirdly heroic. But is it not even more heroic to live in hope?

“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and 6 my God. My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you.”

Psalm 42:5-6

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Concealed Wounds

Brennan Manning Quote

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.

Matthew 5:14-15, ESV

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. 

Galatians 5:22-23

Overall, I think this Manning quote is a great observation. We, the torn and wounded often hide, secluding ourselves in the “Island of Misfit Toys.” (Got to love 60s TV.) We pretty much accept our lot as eccentric or even damaged merchandise. But exactly who has given us this label?

Perhaps our ‘self-imposed’ exile is more our doing than we would like to admit. Could it be that we imagine ‘slights’ and ‘affronts’ from others too easily? Somehow the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ is long-suffering, so why are we rattled by the ignorance of some? It seems to me that if I hide my light under a ‘bushel basket’ I am depriving the Church of a necessary gift.

This may come as a shock, but the Church doesn’t need more gifted people. But it does need broken people who understand ‘the giftedness of the flawed.” When we conceal, we diminish the Church by our absence. We can ostracize ourselves, through a self imposed shame– but the Church will suffer. We need to show them that everyone can be healed, even screwy ‘fruit-cakes’ like us.

I recently had the privilege of speaking to a class of Bible College students. My subject was decidedly not on being successful, but on being a failure. Whole courses are geared toward ministerial success– but where are the ones for failure? I think that it just might be as important, in the long run.

You will never erase your past. I have tried and it can’t be done. I have blitzed my brains on drugs and booze, but I still remember the people I’ve hurt. (And I pray for them.) There really isn’t a cure for the evil we have done. I believe in forgiveness. And I hold to the idea that are sins are never to be a subject of  guilty accusation–

“He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.”

Micah 7:19

Extracted from us, our iniquity is put in a very deep (and out of the way) place. But there are the memories of an unkind word, or a sad foolishness that we must learn to live with. There will be regrets, and consequences of a sin. It is enough to know that all is under the blood of Jesus. We are indeed forgiven.

We are now to live as forgiven sinners, yet precious in God’s eyes. We discover that although the Father has no favorites among His children, but He does have intimates. We are to live the rest of our lives for His glory, exploring that intimacy. We are now light, not ‘black holes.’

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